An average of 1,200 people are questioned by private security at Bloomington’s Mall of America each year, with security sometimes forwarding names to the FBI for such innocuous activity as taking photos or acting nervous after being approached by guards.
The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and NPR News Investigations released a report on the private mall’s security program Wednesday, illuminating practices that some said violates civil rights.
The security team is run by a former Israel Defense Forces’ sergeant. The teams focus on people showing “unexplained nervousness, people photographing such things as air-conditioning ducts or signs that a shopper might have something to hide,” according to the report.
In two-thirds of the interrogations the subject was a person of color or Arab descent. That’s led to at least one successful complaint to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, according to CIR/NPR.
While defending the security methods as “part of today’s society,” Commander Jim Ryan of the Bloomington Police Department told CIR/NPR that the security approach may “infringe on some freedoms, unfortunately.”
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, told CIR/NPR that these methods violate people’s civil liberties and put authority in the hands of unaccountable private power like these security companies and the Mall of America.
“If all they’re getting for amassing suspicious activity reports on innocent people in government databases is the arrest of a few low-level turnstile jumpers and shoplifters, that doesn’t seem very sensible,” Rosen said.
CIR/NPR received 125 suspicious activity reports filed from the mall, including this common example from CIR/NPR’s database of incidents:
Mall security questioned a man with a camera on a tripod. The man “admitted he was taking photographs of the Mall of America structure” for an online photography class. He “appeared to get more nervous as the interview progressed.”
Some who were interrogated by private security had photos confiscated, were reported to police or were even enmeshed in deportation hearings after being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to the suspicious activity reports.
The Minnesota Independent has previously reported on the Mall of America’s collaboration with Homeland Security and its embrace of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign.